Mexican oregano is a culinary herb native to Mexico. Though it tastes similar to regular oregano, the two types are not related. The fragrant leaves are used in traditional Mexican cooking where they impart a strong, earthy flavor. Traditionally, the leaves were made into an herbal tea used to treat minor respiratory problems. In the garden, this fragrant herb attracts butterflies and other pollinators with fragrant white flowers.
Though they share the same name and impart a similar flavor when used in cooking, Mexican and common oregano are not related. Mexican oregano belongs to the Verbenaceae plant family while common oregano belongs to the mint family. Mexican oregano can be found under the species name Lippia graveolens, while the common oregano species is Origanum vulgare.
A native to Mexico, this species of oregano is a frost-sensitive plant. It can be grown outdoors year round in areas where winter temperatures rarely drop below 20 to 30°F (about -6 to -1°C). In colder climates, this oregano can be grown in a container and kept indoors or in a greenhouse for the winter. When overwintering the plants indoors, they should be kept at 50°F (about 10°C).
Mexican oregano, either planted in the ground or in a pot, grows best when it gets six or more hours of sun per day. It does not require a lot of water or fertilizer to grow well. In pots, the soil can be allowed to dry out slightly between watering. When planted in the garden, this drought-tolerant herb will require water only during periods of excessive heat and dry weather.
Delicate, fragrant white flowers bloom year round in frost-free climates and on greenhouse-grown plants. The flowers are a rich source of nectar for butterflies as well as bees and other pollinating insects. Birds are attracted to the nutritious seeds and numerous wildlife nest in large shrubs making this fragrant plant a good candidate for a wildlife garden.
The leaves can be harvested year round for use in traditional Mexican dishes and in any culinary creation where a strong, earthy oregano flavor is desired. It enhances meat dishes, fish and tomato sauce, and can be used where recipes call for the similar Mexican herb epazote. The leaves can be used fresh right from the plant or dried and stored for later use.
As an herbal tea, Mexican oregano is said to help relieve minor respiratory problems. But one need not suffer an ailment to enjoy the rich flavor of this tea. Preparation is simple — all that is needed is boiling water and a tablespoon of dried or fresh herbs.